Rawhead Rex (1987)

Starring David Dukes, Niall Tóibín, Cora Venus Lunny, Ronan Wilmot, Donal McCann, Heinrich von Schellendorf

Directed by George Pavlou

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-Movie scale:
twohalfstar


Like The Quiet Man before it, Rawhead Rex takes us on location to the green hills of the Emerald Isle, bonny old Ireland. Unlike The Quiet Man, Rawhead Rex is about an ancient god/devil buried deep underground that is resurrected and takes out his revenge on anyone that happens upon his path. There is seemingly so rhyme or reason to his rampage, but if you’re watching a movie called Rawhead Rex, I’m sure you’re more concerned with good horror fun and gore than character motivations and realistic storytelling.

As with Tuesday’s film Underworld, Rawhead Rex is written by Clive Barker (from his short story) and directed by George Pavlou. This film is a marked step up from Underworld in every area, but it still doesn’t achieve greatness. They even refer to the shittiness of the previous film, as a man watches it on television and sleeps soundly from the boredom of it all. Rawhead Rex has the distinct feel of a great 80s horror short story, part Universal monster horror and part gruesome violence, but the pacing is once again pretty poor. There just isn’t enough to hold together an entire movie here.

It is enough for hardcore genre fans though, and the Rawhead suit itself is entertaining enough just to look at. Every time he came on-screen a smile came over my face. His first appearance, only eight minutes into the film, is a classic scene unto itself. A farmer attempts to remove a large, phallic rock from his land and unwittingly unleashes Rex back onto the surface world. The sky grows dark and Rex literally busts up out of the earth, roaring loudly and ready to rampage. The Rawhead mask is oddly enchanting, as you can never put your finger on what it’s supposed to resemble. This leaves it as uniquely Rex’s and he owns it.

What the film lacks in terms of suspense, it makes up for with the Rex rampage scenes. As there is no method to his madness, whenever Rex encounters a human he just goes apeshit. During an assault on some farmers, he busts into their house and smashes everything in their kitchen before even trying to hunt them down. He later does the same thing when he becomes angry at the local priest, who walks in on him baptizing the junior priest in his urine. Yep, you read that right, Rawhead Rex just straight up pisses on his new willing servant. It’s moments like this that signal a desire to push the limits of traditional horror, but they never properly utilize the elements to create something coherent and worth watching.

The main human character of the movie is a journalist who’s doing some research in the area and gets caught up in the middle of all this. He sees Rex on a hillside at night, but is unable to convince the police of what he saw. Rex later runs into them about halfway through the movie and rips his young son from the car, leaving only a bloody shoe on the ground. This sends the man into a frenzy, but the cops still don’t believe him. Rex then rampages through a trailer park, ripping flesh and decapitating residents, and the police can no longer ignore the man’s assertions. When they finally come around though, the guy is so angry at the cops that he refuses to work with them, preferring to settle the score himself. This sets up my favorite dialogue exchange of the film.

“Oh, in the meantime…can I get you a cup of tea?” said the cop.
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?” said the man.

Although, “Get upstairs, fuckface! I can’t keep on waiting” is a close second.

One of the biggest missteps here though is the choice to skimp out on most of the gore opportunities. Sure, there’s a couple of good shots of Rex hoisting a severed head high into the air, but most of the scenes cut away long before any FX start. It’s unfortunate because I think if this was done well, this could be a genre classic instead of a genre curiosity. The endgame is really good and completely satisfies, but it’s not hard to see why Clive Barker has disowned this and Underworld. They are nothing more than poor examples of his output, but at least Rawhead Rex is at some level entertaining. Thankfully Clive was able to get a deal for Hellraiser that allowed him control over the production as both writer and director, saving him from obscurity. Rawhead Rex isn’t a complete waste of film though. If you enjoy a wrestler-type dude in a monster suit smashing things, then this movie will deliver.

The horror train achieves full speed on Monday as Uncle Jasper kicks off the week with a review of Santo vs. the Vampire Women!

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